Last month, we looked at why tour operators and DMCs need to be ready for the recovery of the tourism industry. Covid-19 has been devastating, but the ‘green shoots’ of tourism recovery are starting to appear, and demand among travellers is on the rise. In fact, a majority of destinations around the world (53%) [1] have now started easing travel restrictions, and 2021 is set to be one of the industry’s most significant years to date.

Notably, we’re seeing innovative travel safety initiatives emerging, which are giving rise to a new shape in the tourism sector. New ‘safety level’ search filters for air and ground product, plus health and safety checklists with traveller reviews validating sanitation measures experienced, are just a couple of new initiatives impacting how travel is being researched and booked. While there are some destinations that have eased travel restrictions, it’s because they have high levels of health and hygiene infrastructure. They also tend to have comparatively low Covid-19 infection rates. More typically, many countries globally are still extremely cautious about easing travel restrictions, and some have passed strict measures to keep their citizens safe. As of September, 93 destinations (43% of all worldwide destinations) [1] continue to have their borders completely closed to tourism.

The pandemic is still with us and looks likely to stay that way for some time. What this means is that travel on a global scale will look different to what it did before. The question is, how are you placed to respond to this changing landscape? How will your business fare in a post-Covid era?

2020 has been the Year of the Virus. As we move out of it and look ahead to 2021, what do tour operators and DMCs need to keep in mind?

Destination and product marketing:

It’s important to keep up to date with the latest information and make sure you’ve got it online as soon as possible. Safety is going to be a primary concern for travellers going forward – they’re going to prioritise their wellbeing alongside looking at how great the travel experience will be.

So, make sure that you:

  • Are up to date with what safety standards are in place within a country. This includes hotels, attractions, and transport options
  • Know what the infection rates are like at the destination
  • Know what measures the country has implemented to stop the spread of the virus; social distancing, where to get help if they feel unwell, health services, etc. Going on holiday in 2021 is going to have a new nickname – watch out for the buzzword ‘safecation’.
  • Are up to date with what safe, sustainable travel is going to cost. People booking holidays in 2021 are likely to be less price-driven, willing to pay more if their safety is ensured. Open up discussions with your suppliers and experts in your destinations so you have this information available.
  • Read about the new Safe Travels Stamp by WTTC (World Travel and Tourism Council). It’s gaining momentum with 100 countries now certified – is this something your country has, and can you use it to benefit your own marketing?

What travellers will look for:

Although staying abreast of traveller expectations has always been an essential activity for any tour operator or DMC, 2021 is going to be critical in terms of understanding what travellers are looking for. With Covid-19 still a threat, people going on holiday are likely to have these considerations front-of-mind:

  • Alternative travel options ‘away from the masses’, such as vacation rentals, private transportation, and off-the-beaten track tours and activities. In other words, they are really looking to ‘get away from it all’ – with avoiding ‘other people’ being the main focus so as to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Sustainability – reducing one’s carbon footprint is gaining traction. It was a concern before Covid, and it will continue to grow. People are increasingly looking for more ways to travel sustainably, which is having an impact on their holiday decisions.
  • Staying connected – even if people have travelled to an off-the-grid, out-of-the-way destination, they’re still going to want to stay in touch with the outside world, so it’s important they can access the latest updates and news from their local ground handler or DMC.

Another thought to keep in mind is that group travel is likely to be slower to recover, as people aren’t going to want to share travel space with strangers. There is going to be a ‘new normal’ with group travel – a bunch of people who all know each other and are certain none of them have Covid-19.

In order to be prepared for the ‘new normal’ in the tourism sector, inbound operators and DMCs must be ready to create new offerings that match the needs of travellers from 2021 and beyond.

Specifically, make sure to promote:

  • Success stories in containing the pandemic and what safety standards have been achieved
  • Flexibility with accommodation, transport and tours and activities – having multiple options available to cater for individuals’ different safety, sustainability and other travel preferences
  • The ability to provide regular updates to travellers during their trip
  • Sustainable tourism products

We have no way of knowing when the world will return to a pre-Covid state – the ability to travel freely – but what we do know is that Covid is not putting the brakes on tourism indefinitely. People are still keen to travel, especially those who have family overseas they haven’t seen for all of 2020. But when they do plan a trip, the need to consult an expert is, and will remain, greater than before. They need tour operators and DMCs who can help them navigate the complications associated with international travel.

Here at Tourplan, we’ve been in regular contact with industry players since the Covid-19 era began, and the insights we’ve gleaned are ones we want to share with our clients and colleagues so they’re in the best possible shape to meet the challenges of the ‘new normal’ in tourism. We offer the technology you need to plan and manage the kinds of itineraries that your customers need.

We’re here to help. Find out how technology can give your tour business new life, and meet the challenges of a Covid-19 era and beyond.